KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

CMS: Seniors Will See Modest Increase In Medicare Drug Premiums But Improved Benefits

The Associated Press: "Seniors will see a modest increase in their Medicare prescription premiums next year but benefits will also improve, federal health officials said Wednesday. The average monthly premium charged by Medicare drug plans for standard coverage will rise to an estimated $30 in 2011, an increase of $1 over 2010..." But, the AP notes that "Medicare prescription plans vary widely in costs and benefits. ... Consumer advocates recommend that seniors and family members use Medicare's online plan finder to see which insurer provides the best deal for an individual's medications" (Alonso-Zaldivar, 8/18).

The New York Times: "More information on individual plans will be posted on the government Web site over the next two months before open enrollment starts in November. … [T]he estimated total cost of the drug benefits to taxpayers has fallen significantly because of lower drug price increases, generic competition, and added negotiating authority bestowed under the new law, [Paul Spitalnic, a Medicare actuary] said. Congress never took up proposals to give Medicare even more sweeping powers to negotiate drug prices, however. That would have cost the Obama administration the support of the pharmaceutical industry during the health care debate" (Wilson, 8/18).

Reuters: "About 27 million people are currently enrolled in Part D [prescription drug] plans, according to CMS, and 29 million are expected to sign up in 2011. Part D has been controversial ever since U.S. lawmakers passed it in 2003 under a Republican-led Congress and President George W. Bush. While the program has earned support for helping elderly patients afford critical medicines, it has also weathered some criticism for not being properly funded, resulting in the coverage gap and an increase in the nation's debt" (Heavey, 8/18).

The Hill's Healthwatch Blog: "CMS officials were also quick to note the cost-slashing benefits of the new health reform law ... for instance, roughly 750,000 Part D beneficiaries caught in the so-called 'doughnut hole' have received $250 rebate checks already this year, [administrator Don] Berwick said. ... But the National Business Group on Health (NBGH) this week issued a potential warning for those who thought that closing the coverage gap could mean only good news for seniors. A survey unveiled by the NBGH Wednesday found that 5 percent of the nation's largest companies plan to drop health coverage for retirees in 2011, while another 60 percent are eyeing that possibility in the future. The reason? NBGH attributes it, at least in part, to 'making Medicare Part D benefits richer as the 'doughnut hole' closes'" (Lillis, 8/18). This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.